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Game official: Coyote sightings to rise

Thursday - 5/17/2012, 6:00am  ET

coyote (Courtesy of Greg Ragan)
A game camera captured this coyote roaming the backyard of Greg Ragan's Eastview home near Frederick on an early April morning. (Courtesy of Greg Ragan)

Sherry Crockett is used to seeing deer, wild turkeys, foxes and raccoons in the woodlands that surround her home. But a coyote -- now that was a bit of a surprise.

"Our first coyote sighting was last spring about this time," said Crockett, who lives on Rocky Springs Road just outside Frederick. "It was early in the morning when I looked out over our deck and saw ... well, I was not 100 percent certain of what I saw."

But after observing it for a few minutes, as it wandered into their yard, Crockett and her husband confirmed the doglike animal was a coyote.--

In late April of this year, the couple had a second coyote visit their backyard. "It was very early in the morning, just after dawn," she said.

She has not seen it since, but Crockett said she keeps her camera by the door in hopes of snapping a photo should the coyote return.

In mid-April, Christine Reeder did snap some photos of a black bear that not only tiptoed through her tulips, it ate one. The bear wandered through her backyard to the front of the house, where it munched on a tulip planted beneath a tree at her home near Gambrill State Park on U.S. 40. Last year, she saw a sow and two cubs in her front yard.

This is the time of year when reports of coyote and black bear increase, said Harry Spiker, game mammal section leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service in Oakland. Coyote and black bear populations are increasing, he said, so it's only natural that more people would be catching glimpses of them.

Coyotes

"Statewide, coyotes are found in every county," Spiker said. The first documented sightings in Maryland were in 1972 in Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties, he said. Today, Garrett County has the largest coyote population.

Spiker said the urban myth that coyotes were "stocked" in Maryland is just that, a myth. Coyotes are a Plains animal and as the population grew, their territory expanded using two routes -- up to Canada and the Great Lakes region and down through New England, and a southern route that took them east across the Mississippi River, through Alabama and Tennessee and into the Mid-Atlantic states.

"They likely came into Maryland from both," Spiker said, noting that Maryland and Delaware were the last two states in the contiguous United States to be colonized by coyotes. A decline in the wolf population left a niche for coyotes to fill. They are a top-order predator, meaning they have no natural predators.

The Eastern coyote roams Maryland. "It's considerably bigger than its Western cousin," Spiker said, noting the Eastern coyote typically weighs between 30 and 35 pounds and the Western coyote is about 10 pounds lighter.

It's believed that as the coyotes moved east, they bred with wolves, resulting in the larger Eastern coyote.

"Eastern coyotes can be blond to black to the typical colors of a German shepherd, like gray or brown," Spiker said. "Out West, typically they are gray or brown."

In Maryland, coyotes would have had their litters in the past month or so, Spiker said. They have one litter per year, typically of four to six pups. Coyotes are nocturnal, but with a litter of pups to feed, it's not uncommon to see the "mom and dad" out hunting to feed their brood.--

"The habitat they use is varied," Spiker said of coyotes. "They love to hunt fields and field edges" for voles, moles and rabbits. Pup dens are in "safe places like marshy areas, where they won't have much contact with people."

Coyotes also have large home ranges and travel long distances. "They'll stay pretty close to home when the pups are little, but when the pups are bigger, they will cover a range of several miles, and it may take several weeks to cover their territory," Spiker said. "Most of the year they are found solo, unlike wolves that travel in packs."

Red foxes prefer the same habitat and resources that coyotes do, and it has been observed that when coyotes expand into an area, the red fox population can decline; that has not been the case in Garrett County, however, Spiker said.--

Coyotes have been known to prey on livestock, but it's usually limited to an individual coyote, he said.

"There have been a small number of incidents," Spiker said. Between 2006 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued six coyote trapping permits statewide for problem coyotes, he said. There is a year-round daytime coyote hunting season and a trapping season in Maryland, he said.

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